Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Are You a User or a Pusher?

Relax! I have no interest in your recreational habits. Let me explain where the question comes from and all will become clear.

I came into training as a novice. Having struggled for 12 years to make a career as an actor, and having spent most of those 12 years doing other work to keep the wolf from the door, my wife Mandy (@MandyRG) and I started an IT Training company with another couple in 1989. I had very limited previous exposure to using a computer, nor had I any formal training experience (although I did manage to last a whole term in post-graduate teacher training after I gained my  Drama Degree in 1976).

But that meant that I came to the IT Training business essentially untainted by a lot of background technical knowledge and expertise. I came in as a user of the technology with, frankly, no interest whatsoever in what was going on inside the box. I just wanted to know how to make the software do the things I needed it to do. And that software was still green screen Lotus 123 and WordPerfect!

It was several months - as we slowly built up our client base - before my colleagues were prepared to unleash me on an unsuspecting group of client  Lotus 123 learners. I had had the benefit of being trained by Mandy and had sat in and witnessed her and them training the course and done several dummy runs myself with their helpful feedback. I managed to hold it together and delivered a successful course - but it was to the letter of the albeit very good lesson plan and, if anyone had asked me any questions for which I had not been prepared (and let's face it, there are a million of those), it could all have gone horribly wrong. I was not entirely comfortable with being in that position.

And so we grew the business and I developed both my application and my trainer skills. But my ethos as a trainer was always the user/learner and the context in which they would be using these tools; to make the software work for them and not them to work for it. So we talked to them (as opposed to talked at them).  We asked them what they wanted to do and why they wanted to do it. And, yes, we did have to cover some basics in those days, but even then it was in the context of their jobs and their productivity - as users. 

This was radical stuff in those days! I'd experienced IT training from other people and it was clear that many of them, whilst technically very good indeed, had no understanding of nor empathy with their trainees. They were pushing their knowledge and information at them, rather than discussing their needs and contextualising the learning accordingly.  I personally never learned anything from the pushers, the show and tellers, who would sail through their 'schtick' without pause or concern for whether or not their learners were actually understanding what they were telling them.

And it's still going on. I still come across and hear about many different instances of trainers pushing information onto trainees. Facts piled upon facts. Bullet point after bullet point on text-heavy, graphically-challenged PowerPoint slides. No questions or discussion. And we wonder why people are turning their backs on traditional, classroom-based training.

So, here's an opportunity to reflect back on my original question. On the trainer/facilitator spectrum - are you a user or a pusher?

Your thoughts and comments are very welcome.


  1. Ah yes, so many times I've sat / listened to training and wondered if this was training or a sales pitch. Although is this also a cultural thing, it's what we're used to right? Just look at the education system, it's changing, but very slowly. Organisations want instant training meaning little to no TNA takes place leaving the trainer delivering what the execs want delivered rather than the useful stuff people want to know about. It's up to us as trainers to challenge these organisations / execs and the status quo (it's the way we've always done it) and put the power back in the hands of the learner.

    1. Exactly my point - but we also have to create a climate whereby the learner themselves feel they have permission to be more demanding, to seek the relevant knowledge nuggets - and we can start that dialogue in the classroom. Tear up the script; have a conversation; be brave and be prepared not to be the expert. Someone else in the room or in the virtual classroom probably knows the answer already. Thanks for commenting - whoever you are! ;-)